I Broke My Shoe Today

Where to begin?  Since my posts have been so sporadic and with much time in between them, lots has happened so there is lots to share.  Why the paucity of posts?  I’d say it’s because I’ve been in a season of taking a step back to regroup.  I’ve taken this time to go internal, to rebuild my dancing foundation, and to get mentally clean.  I’ve not competed in the better part of a year and I’ve wondered what I was doing all this for.  I don’t necessarily have all the answers but I do feel the siren song of the ballroom world calling to me once again.

I don’t regret a thing.  It has been an important piece of my journey to take this time, to get different coaching, to gain a measure of independence and being solid on my own two feet.  It was good to be separate and get centered.  From this space I can truly move, truly connect, truly be a partner.

So what happened was that PBS aired “America’s Ballroom Challenge” and I watched it and I saw all these friends and people I know and I was invigorated.  I also saw a particular instructor and amateur partner dance and I thought to myself, “I could do that better!” Boastful, I know.  And perhaps not even true!  But the deal is that it stimulated me to call my old friend, Ivan, because I wanted to have the possiblitity of it being true.  And as much as I love Latin, I also miss Rhythm.  And I missed Ivan and Marieta, too.

So I called Ivan and we talked and because we parted so amicably, going back was a possibility.  I said, “I’m thinking to do Rhythm with you and Latin with Damir.”  And he said, “Okay, no problem.”  It’s actually even better than that because Ivan and Marieta are going to start competing in Smooth so after we get our Rhythm routines squared away, I want to do Smooth as well, which Damir doesn’t offer.

As of the writing of this post we’ve had 3 lessons and the new, re-vamped Cha-Cha is complete.  I feel like all the moves in it are within my reach and I love that Marieta helped us with it as well.  She added some sections that allow me to be more expressive and feminine.  I am excited to show new aspects of myself and I was pleased that Ivan could tell that my dancing was more solid.  The best part is we are having lots of fun.  There isn’t the pressure that used to be present and I am committed to keeping things mentally healthy between us.  As much as I’m showing up differently, more positively, more joyful to Ivan, he’s also declared that he will relate to me as the Stefanie I am now, rather than drudging up the old Stef with less confidence, more worry, more story.  So great!  Things are chugging along and feeling good.

hip liftwpid-wp-1431056239565.jpeg

The other exciting news is that a new couple has come to EuroRhythm.  They are really excellent and I have had one lesson with both Kristijan and Anja each.  Last week I worked with Anja on some styling and she actually reminded me of Marieta a little bit in how expressive and free she is with her body.  Today I worked with Kristijan on my Latin closed Silver Cha Cha choreography and boy was it an experience.  He certainly has a lot of energy and he gave me so much information.  The biggest thing was creating the space to really dance, expressively dance.  I’ve been so focused on getting on my legs, feeling solid, I’m overthinking everything.  I went from being overly emotional to being almost robotic. I was way out of my comfort zone on my lesson today but I embrace it.  It’s like I’ve been practicing in a small pen and now the gates have been thrown wide open and I’m being introduced to a world that is way larger and deeper than I’d previously exprienced.  Also cool was that Kristijan said that I have beautiful legs and feet and that I’m very flexible.  Plus he was blown away with the way I connected through our frame, the amount of resistance I had.  The best part of it was that I was glad to hear the good feedback but that my ego didn’t take it and blow it up bigger than it is.  Of course he also gave me some corrections, mostly about making smaller steps and working my back leg more, but again, I stayed even keel.

The way I’ve been dancing with Damir I’ve been very much in my head, thinking everything through.  My face shows it.  So one big thing Kristijan kept asking me for was to smile, to actually look at him, then to look to the audience.  It reminds me of my early days with Ivan and how he pulled so much out of me.  I think working with Anja opened it up for me a little bit and then when I was on the lesson with Ivan this weekend I showed more of that freedom, more of my personality in the sections Marieta helped choreograph.  Both of them were like, “See!  You have this in you!  Why you not showing it before?  Not everyone has this inside them.  I ask my other students, please do this, and you just doing this.”  And yet, there is still more to show and express.

For me, I think it comes down to Trust and Confidence.  Trust both in myself and my partner and Confidence in my movement.  I noticed on my lesson today I was a bit unsure.  And as Damir says, the worst thing an Artist can do is hesitate.  It is our complete committment and conviction to the Art we are creating that allows access to the Art.  I have some growing to do in this regard but now that I’m aware of it I can choose differently and practice it until it becomes my new way of being.  I was so excited to be very uncomfortable on my lesson today because that means growth.  And I just know that I’m going to become even more expressive than I ever was before.  I’m going to be able to be completely authentic about who I am in my movement and that is exciting indeed.  I also noticed that I have been working so diligently to be able to be independent and move myself that I’ve not been practicing really relying on my partner.  One thing that happened with Kristijan (we’ll call him “K”) was that he wanted me to rely on him more so that I could go a little off balance or create a bigger movement than I could do on my own – to leverage the connection to create a fuller picture.  It’s not something I’ve been practicing, to trust in this connection and my partner, but I’m excited by what’s possible beyond what I’ve been doing.  My limits expanded today.

After the lesson tonight with K, I saw Damir and said that as much as he was helping me be a robot, Kristijan was all about expression, which is what I was overdoing before, so I’ve come full circle.  And he said, well it must be time for more expression.  The entire journey is to work to find balance and just when you find balance, destablize it.  Then work to regain the new balance and just when you find it, get off balance again.  It’s funny how all this unfolds, isn’t it?

So I forsee a competition in the not too far future.  I have routines to get together so it will be a bit but maybe before the end of the year.  Maybe Galaxy, maybe Holiday in Vegas.  I do think, regardless of what’s next, that I am in a great position for next year.  Also, there is a sense of urgency without pressure.  At least when it comes to Ivan, we talked about it and we want to get out there as soon as possible but doing it joyfully, sanely, taking what time we need to set ourselves up to win (and by win I mean dance with excellence and without all the drama – the results will be what the results will be in terms of placement.  I’m clear that I’m more committed to loving me and loving my dancing and sharing that than I am to placing first.)  Of course I care about how I place and I am competitive and I do want to win, it’s just that my priorities are re-ordered.

In that same vein, I’m ready to let go of my hang ups about my body.  It hasn’t changed much in terms of how it looks in the past months and frankly, so what?  My struggles with self-esteem and body image have been such a big part of this blog but it’s time to let that be in the past and to drop all the drama.  My body is how my body is.  It’s different every day.  It changes based on the choices I make about what I eat, how I work out, how I treat it, how I dance it.  I’m discovering that I can still be an incredible dancer just as I am right now in this moment.  So much of what has kept me stuck has been feeling like I need to look different to “really” dance.  No!  This is not the truth.  I can dance right now, and in many respects, I can dance better now than I did when I was in high school and a size 8.

In fact, truth be told, my body has very little to do with dancing even as it has everything to do with it.  This weekend the People’s Choice DanceSport competition was held and I went to spectate with two dear friends.  The most moving part was a woman who came out on the floor in a wheelchair.  I’m not sure what condition she has but it looked like her body was fighting against her for every single move she made.  She was able to stand up and take some steps with the support and assitance of her dance partner even as she shook with each and every movement.  It was completely captivating.  In fact, I found it more beautiful, authentic, and engaging than many of the pro performances that evening.  That was true dancing.  She’s my new hero.  Even though her face couldn’t move to express her feelings, it appeared frozen, it was so very clear she loved dancing and she was passionate about it.  It was so incredible how she was emoting purely, and without all the usual cues like facial expression or clear, smooth body movement.

So my body isn’t important when it comes to dancing, even though it is totally important when it comes to dancing (get the paradox?)  That being said, it’s not an excuse to give up or stop working on honing my instrument.  In fact, I’m starting a new plan June 1st and comitting to 30 days of doing it.  Mostly I want to prove to myself that I can successfully complete it and I think it will support me in re-creating my future body.  But in this moment, this is the only body I have.  It is how it is.  I’ve been resisting it, I’ve been fighting reality, I’ve not wanted to choose my body, insisting in the fantasy that there is any other body to have.  Right now, this is it and this is perfect.  There is nothing to fix or change.  There is only the body I have so I might as well choose it and dance it with freedom and abandon.  It’s like, all these dancers I’m working with are reflecting to me some of my great assets as a dancer – my legs, my feet, my connection…they see it and they celebrate it.  Why shouldn’t I?  They are not as hung up about my body as I am.  They see it differently than I have chosen to see it.

So anyways, I’m the Biggest Girl In The Ballroom.  Maybe that will never change.  Maybe it will.  I’m choosing to be okay with what is so and to continue to put energy and effort towards my goals and dreams.

Finally, the title of my blog post is a true statement.  One of the straps on my heels snapped tonight so the Universe is telling me I need a new pair.  I’m going to take it as a sign that it’s finally time to try on the 3 inch heels.  I have two pairs of unused shoes that I’ve not worn because I wasn’t on balance.  I got them out and walked around in my kitchen and I actually feel like it might now be possible to work in them.  Of course it will take some adjustments but I think it was a message that my old shoes broke – that it’s time to “step up” to the next level.  Perfect timing.

So that’s the skinny in my world.  I’m excited to see what happens next.

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Dance Advantage Best Dance Blog 2013

So a little over a year ago I started dancing with this crazy Bulgarian named Ivan.  And a little over a year ago, I had so much to say about it to my husband that his eyes would glaze over.  I discovered another outlet and I began writing this blog.

One of my first posts very surprisingly went semi-viral and it convinced me to stick with this blog thing, that maybe, just maybe, I had something valuable to say and share about my dancing life experiences.

A little known fact is that, shortly after I began the blog, I also discovered this amazing website called Dance Advantage.  Around that time I saw that they had a dance blog contest and I think, though I could be mistaken, that it was through this contest that I discovered this entertaining, funny blog called Adult Beginner that had won the contest.  Well, I’ve continued to follow AB because it is seriously hilarious, but back then I vowed to myself that I’d put in for this contest in the following year 1) because it was so cool and 2) because it led me to other great dance blogs that I still continue to enjoy and 3) it hooked me up to DA which has all sorts of great dance-related info and I follow on Twitter.

So, not wanting to make bad on my promise to myself, here is me entering the contest.

The deal is this, I need comments on THIS blog post to even be considered for the second round.  The blogs with the most comments get to move forward.  There are many categories – I’m entering under “Recreational Dancer.”

But you know me, and I can’t write a blog post this short so I thought I’d kind of reflect on where I was a year ago, seeing as it is the new year and all.  It also seems apropos since it was a year ago that I thought about entering this contest.

So I looked up the post on my blog that was almost exactly a year from today.  It turns out, the post was mostly about confidence – probably one of the main themes I’ve broached on this blog o’mine.  In it, Ivan was doing what he does best, pulling out the part of me that wants to express myself, the part of me that I choke and hide, the part of me that makes me a performer.  A particular portion stood out for me, though.  Ivan had asked me how soon it would be until we were able to do that famous lift from “Dirty Dancing,” which, in my mind, the answer is, like, never….but anyways…..

He’s  [Ivan] fearless, though, and doesn’t have my particular flavor of mental baggage that creates limitations in my mind.  I’ve seen him toss around a 70-year-old woman, one of his students, in the Hustle.

And don’t get me wrong, I have big dreams when it comes to dancing. In my head I have all sorts of fantasies about how I’m going to look, that I’m going to win some scholarship competitions, that I’m going to eventually get to dance in open heats in the night sessions when the lights are low and the ballroom is buzzing. But all that feels like a fairy tale – things I generally do not talk about for fear that others will think me mad but that are in my heart and that I desire greatly.

But today is not the day to attempt this particular trick.  Just standing still and preparing to move have been a challenge.  But ultimately I feel encouraged by Ivan’s belief in me.  Sometimes I think he believes in me more than  I do.  That’s why he endlessly crams my brain full of details.  That’s why he has me do the same thing over and over and over.

And one day I’m going to believe in myself this much.  One day, if I stick with it, and work hard, and practice, and sweat, then one day I will get to maybe play out in real life some of those fantasies in my head.  And what an amazing feeling that will be.

But here’s the thing.  Looking back from where I was to where I am, though I may not be where I’d ultimately like to be, I do believe that I’ve gained some confidence and belief in myself.  I do believe that what I deeply desire is, in fact, possible for me…and that, in and of itself, is a huge win.  I believe that I could dance in open heats in night sessions, and I have already danced in two scholarship rounds.  Though I earned poor results, entering those scholarships was the first step to actually placing well in one.  I do now begin to believe that I will get to play out in real life these fantasies in my head…they are becoming more of a reality with each practice and lesson, with each day I stick to my diet, with each coaching or dance camp and competition I attend.

Maybe I haven’t realized these things just yet (or ever), and maybe I still struggle with believing in myself, but truthfully I feel that I’m closer today than I was a year ago.  And, I’m committed.  Like damn skippy!

When it comes down to it, I’m proud of myself for the advances I have made, and I’m ready to dig in and work to improve my shortcomings.  I’m motivated, and boy does that feel good.  It’s funny because at the end of the post from a year ago I included a link to a video about pushing that extra bit to make the difference between good and great and now, in a year’s time, I find myself once again motivated by a quote to push myself harder and more profoundly (as in my last post).

Well, anyways, I felt confident enough to share this photo with the Facebook world and that’s a pretty good thing, I’d say.

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Like, I still see the imperfections (oh, trust me, I do!)…but I’m still willing to put it out there anyways and say, “This is me. Here I am.”  That makes me feel like I am a courageous person, and a person with courage like that can go far in this world….they could probably even dance in open heats at night and place well in scholarships.  They could probably even shed 100 pounds.

So here’s to me believing in myself and what is possible in the coming year.

What’s possible for you?

And now, since this is my entry into the Dance Advantage contest and all, here is is where I ask (*beg*) you to please make a comment on THIS post so that I might possibly move forward to the next round of competition.  Please consider sharing a link to this post so I might accrue more comments if you’ve been moved by what you’ve found here, or have gained any value from the blog.  I have until January 22nd to garner as much support (i.e. comments) as possible.

As always, I’m grateful.  Thanks for your support, whatever it looks like!

-Stef

My Dance Manifesto

Something is brewing up inside me, and it ain’t from eating beans.

No, it’s much deeper than that.

I’m feeling moved. Isn’t it funny that when we are affected emotionally it’s called being moved?  Like that’s what dance is all about.  To move others and yourself through moving.  It’s a mindbender like a mirror reflecting another mirror on and on into infinity.

Tango (From Wikipedia Commons – this image was originally posted to Flickr by jennifrog)

So I’m feeling emotional these past few days.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I will be putting myself “out there” again at the Galaxy competition.  I feel like I’m coming at it from a good place.  Actually, I was a little shocked that it is exactly a week away tomorrow.  I’m relaxed, I think, especially since I’m just doing single dances and I’ve released the need to “win.”  No anxiety dreams like I had before Desert Classic, and my lessons have been free-spirited and wonderful.  I am envisioning the experience to be like this, feeling as if I were just floating around the dance studio, this time around.

But that doesn’t mean this isn’t important.  And one thing I failed to do at my last competition was to get clear about the experience I wanted to create.  I didn’t write out specific aims that I hoped to accomplish.  So I’ve learned from my experience and this proclamation, this dance manifesto for Stefanie, it’s been mulling around in my mind.

The point of the manifesto is to bring out the best of me, as a person and as a dancer.   All too often I focus on my shortcomings, my faults, my flaws, my errors.  I hone in on all the things I’m doing wrong, all the things that make me feel inadequate.  This manifesto is my heart’s reply to the negative voices in my mind.  It’s my new creed.  It’s my new motto.  It’s how I’m now going to show up on lessons, in life, and while performing.

And one other thing – I’m winging it.  I haven’t written out a draft or anything.  I’m just writing stream-of-consciousness here so we will see what I come up with.  All I know is, that I’m feeling a lot of powerful emotions at the moment and I have decided to express them in this way.  So here goes nothing…

I, Stefanie, Dancer vow that:

I will finish all my movements.  I will follow them through on into infinity beyond the horizon.  I will inhabit every moment with my spirit and project my energy in 360 degrees.

I will not be afraid.  I will be bold and courageous.

I will love myself through every single moment.  I will be my own best friend.

I will let loose.  I will lower my guard.  I will melt the ice.

I will breathe.  Deeply.  And often.

I will allow myself to be vulnerable and reveal my inner world.

I will claim my space and hold it.

I will persevere.

I will hone my instrument, my body, taking care of it lovingly, compassionately, and with the intent to make it as healthy as possible.

I will allow myself to feel and be sexy.

I will not fear to touch.  I will enjoy the touch.  I will allow my joy to be seen.

I will accept and appreciate any and all feedback I may receive as a gift.  I will remember that no one has the power to make me feel anything except me.

I will give up the white flag and fight to be the best I can be.

I will accept and use my creativity and power.

I will connect.

I will create moments of magic for myself, my partner, and those choosing to share the experience with me.

I will believe in myself.

I will believe in what is possible.

Being a woman, I reserve the right to change my mind and add to or amend this manifesto at any time as I see fit!  But I’m curious, what do you think I should add to mine?  And, more importantly, what’s in YOUR “dance manifesto?”

Work It, Girl!

In case you didn’t know from all my posts on Facebook, this weekend was Emerald Ball in Los Angeles, California.  With over 1100 heats, it was a huge event with thousands of participants.  I happened to know a few people who went so I avidly watched for pictures and video posts on SuperShag.com as the results came in for my friends and for professional couples that I admire and follow.

You can see all the congratulations and who won what or placed where if you care to here and while you’re there, make sure to like the page for Dancing With Stefanie.  That way, a link to any new posts on the blog will show up in your Facebook News feed.  Plus, sometimes I post things on the Facebook page that don’t make it onto the blog.  There is also a “like” button on the upper right hand side of the blog page you can easily click.

Alright, enough with the boring housekeeping items….here’s what’s been going on.

Since Ivan and Marietta went to Emerald Ball on Thursday, I haven’t had a lesson since Wednesday and it’s kind of like going through withdrawal.  Maybe not that dramatic, but by the end of the weekend I was really missing this major part of my life.  But, as they say, nature will always fill a vacuum.  Luckily my friend Ivonne had a perfect solution.  Why not join her for some Lindy Hop and Tranky Doo (yes, that is actually the name of a dance)?  I was especially motivated to go having not danced in days and it turned out to be a lot of fun.

It was a group lesson and social dancing – and the instructors could spot us “ballroomers” a mile away.  “Relax!  No Frame!” were our constant reminders.  It was about getting the rhythm of the dance into our bodies and we were required to actually sing while we moved.  Hoooo Wah! Hoooo Wah!  Hoooo Wah Ooopty Dah!  I’m not even kidding!  But I got why they did it.  And they said that even they still sing these rhythms (different than the beats or counts in the music) while practicing as pros.

It was a nice sized class and a progressive one.  It will continue for the next four weeks, and then if I decide to progress, I’d have to repeat the basic level before they’d allow me in the intermediate class.  Kind of an interesting way of doing things.  I think it’s cool that they value the fundamentals and want their students to have a firm grasp of them before progressing on to harder steps without a proper foundation.  And it creates a strange sort of motivation of like, I want to be a “cool kid” and be in the intermediate class.  Plus it probably weeds out less motivated students.  But we’ll see.  I’m not sure how far I want to jump down this rabbit hole.

After the Lindy Hop class was a class on Tranky Doo.  I really enjoyed it.  You get to dance solo.  It’s from the 30’s.  Here’s a video – sorry the sound is bad:

Anyways, that was lots of fun, not too difficult, but I got a little dance fix and I worked up a good sweat.

But there’s nothing that compares to a lesson with Ivan so I was very excited that he agreed to have a lesson with me today, even after competing late last night (making it to the semi-final) in Professional American Rhythm and Emerald Ball with Marietta, and driving home.  Probably because of that, I had a lot of extra energy and was thinking about all we had worked on last time we met.  I tried my best to project my energy, and after about 3/4ths of the lesson, Ivan finally noticed that I was doing it.  I suppose it’d be better if he’d noticed it right away, but hey, progress.  He gave me a hug.  We had to navigate some issues because the computer through which the stereo runs wasn’t working properly and I ended up using Pandora on my phone for some music.  Not ideal – we quickly used up the maximum 6 skips per hour – but better than nothing.

After the lesson we had a little conversation.  I’m doing Desert Classic so I have to figure out how much I’m going to do, the cost, all that stuff.  I also told Ivan, “Hey!  We have like two months.  I know cardio is an issue, but what other little things can I be working on and fixing during this time?  I want to do the best I can.  But we just dance and you have to tell me!”

He basically told me that yes, there are little things to fix, but the cardio is killing me.  It’s my biggest weakness.  I can’t maintain 100% full energy for long enough.  It’s a problem.  My feet/legs are good, not perfect, and there are expression things to work on, and he put me through my paces on a cross body lead in Cha Cha and doing the Hockey Stick properly into a Fan in Latin Rumba, but the biggest problem is the cardio, and of course, secondarily, the extra weight.  He suggested I work most on those things and lose as much weight as I can before the competition so it will be easier on me.

So I kind of left my lesson feeling a little bummed.  Not a news flash, all this information.  I already know it.  I just wish I could wake up and be the size I was when I was 16 again.  Also, I was feeling insecure.  I tend to vascilate between feeling secure and good about myself and my dancing and then being dismayed that I will never be as good as I want to be, and that mabye I’m delusional about how good I even am right now!  Does anyone else cycle through these as well?

But I digress.  I found, that the dismay also kind of motivates me.  When I have a definite goal, with a definite deadline, and I know I’m not even close to where I want to be, I personally become more motivated to make changes.  So on my way home, I realized that all I would do if I went home was to sit on my fat butt and watch DWTS and maybe write a blog post.  Then I remembered that Marietta teaches a woman’s styling class at Dance Starz on Mondays.  I made a U-turn and headed over to the studio.  No time like the present to take action,right?  Plus, it meant that  I got a double dose of the Dishilev’s tonight!

Anyways, it was one of the best classes I’ve had with Marietta.

This may seem like a tangent, but follow me here – everyone is a genius at something.  From my perspective, Marietta is a genius at sensuality and femininity in ballroom dancing.  It is one of her greatest strengths.

Also, it is amazing to me, how the professional ballroom instructors I’ve experienced are so unabashed about their bodies.  There is like, no shame whatsoever.  I just can’t really relate to that.  But a part of me wants to get there and as uncomfortable as it is, especially with how I’m packaged right now, I’m willing to do the best I can in the moment with it.  These ballroom mavens like Marietta and Inna are the perfect people to model this for me, being as comfortable with themselves as they are.

In any case, Marietta is one of my favorite dancers because she really feels the movement.  She has totally permissioned herself to enjoy every sensuous movement, to touch her body, to play.  The movement she creates with her arms, for instance, as she explains it, isn’t because someone told her to do them a certain way, it’s because that’s where they want to naturally go, where they naturally extend, in a gorgeous and controlled way, because of the movement generated from her body, from her core, from her heart.  She is 100% okay with being sexy, oogled at even.  Again, I really can’t relate.

But what I can’t relate to even more, is putting on socks, taking off my shirt, putting on lotion, and looking in the mirror.   Yes, I know this makes no sense right now, but here’s what happened on the lesson.

Because the styling and movement of the body and arms comes from a natural, organic place, Marietta suggested we start with an everyday task we girls supposedly do.  Marietta suggested we begin with looking in a mirror.  Um, yeah, I generally avoid looking in mirrors, and I don’t have any hand mirrors in my possession.  She had us pretend we were grabbing a hand mirror, looking into it, and loving what we saw.  Uncomfortable.

Then she asked us how we put on socks.  I just slap those suckers on.  She was like, “Oh no!  That won’t do at all!  If I were alone and putting on socks, I’d do this.”  And she bent over, legs demurely crossed, butt up in the air, and delicately, sensually, rubbed her ankles then allowing her hands to traverse her calves, thighs, and all the way up to above her head.  By now, other people in the studio started to watch the class.  I admit, it’s difficult to keep your eyes off Marietta.  And, about this time, I noticed that my legs are at least twice as wide has hers.

She had us practice this movement a few times and then we were on to taking off our shirt.

“How would you take off your shirt?  Please demonstrate for me.”

I shrug my shoulders, cross my arms across my vast belly, and mime pulling upward.  Kind of in a manly, unconcerned way.

Again, not even close to how Marietta demonstrates.  It’s really difficult to describe this all in words!  How to get your mind’s eye to see how it all looked is kind of impossible.  But here’s the best I can do.  She crossed her arms, grabbing at her tiny waist, and drug her hands and fingers, not missing one inch, even her bosom, upwards, uncrossing them until her arms were above her head and only her wrists were entwined, creating almost like a fan out of her hands.  It was gorgeous.

Then she had us put on lotion.  I just cursorily slap that stuff on, when I even bother to use it.  Quick, functional movement.  But Marietta, oh, you’d probably already guess by now, she luxuriates in the movement.  How can a person make something that is so mundane look so interesting?

Finally we had to put it all together.  A basic Rumba box, two Cucarachas, a step back and them “Bam!” We’re supposed to project that sensual energy, reaching for something we want with all our might toward the mirror, arms reaching outward to grab this thing we want so very much.  Then we are to pull it into ourselves, caressing our necks, down through our chests.  Finally, put on a sock, rip off our shirts, rub lotion on our arms, and look at ourselves in our hand mirror.  It’s embarrassing!

It is easier just to do prescribed movement.  Rote movement.  Exact placements of arms rather than feeling it from the inside and expressing it nakedly on the outside.

It’s easier to not become the center of attention, and to avoid touching this body of mine.

It is difficult, for me, to allow myself to really enjoy any of this.

Marietta got a bit upset with me at one point because I was feeling self-conscious and shy doing all this and she wanted me to demonstrate reaching forward with all the yearning energy for that thing I want so badly for the other student in the class.  By then, I’d noticed other people watching us.  That made it even worse for me.

Marietta was like, “Go.  Do it.  Now! Move!  Go! I’m out of words!” And I was like, in my head, waiting for this person to pass behind us, that person to look away, that person to exit.  I didn’t want to be seen.  Eventually, after a lot of deep breaths and once people had moved far enough away, I did my best – enough to satisfy Marietta, but also just enough for me to think I looked like an idiot.

But I survived.  Amazing, isn’t it?

But then Marietta explained something that really stuck with me.  She said that she doesn’t really know how things look when they look good – that that is for others to judge – but rather she knows how it feels.

That, right there, is her genius.  That is why I love watching her and Ivan dance so much.  She is fascinating to watch not only because she is gorgeous and moves fantastically, but because she is actually enjoying the movement.  She revels in the sensuality of it all.  She is unabashed and confident in herself.  Her femininity exudes powerfully and draws me in as a viewer into her story, which seems like it should be a private affair, but there she is, enjoying it and sharing it with the entire crowd.

It’d be awesome to have that kind of power.

It just really affected me – her comment about that she doesn’t know how it looks but rather how it feels.  I reflected; maybe I’ve been looking in all the wrong places to find this for myself.  I realize that look to others, and compare myself to them.  That’s a losing game.  I also look to the mirror but it is not something I love or enjoy to see.  Indeed, it is an invitation to tailspin quickly.

But instead, what I can do, is put the blinders on to the outside and feel.  The Stefanie inside doesn’t feel she is 300 pounds, big, jiggly, and gross when she is in the zone just feeling and being present in the moment.  Like when Ivan and I have dance with our eyes closed and I have to really tune into my body and the leads, nothing else exists – there is no space for the insecurities or the fears or even to consider what other people might think of me, how I look, what I’m doing.  That is where I need to look to find this movement – that was the epiphany tonight.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say that feedback from others or the mirror isn’t useful.  It’s just that it may not be the best place for me to find the feeling, and from that feeling the movement, that I’m looking for.

Toward the end of the lesson, Marietta asked me what I thought this lesson was about – and that if I couldn’t handle the 5 people in the studio watching me be all sensual and stuff, how would I ever handle an entire ballroom full of people?

I replied, “This lesson is about feeling really uncomfortable and doing it anyway.  It is about deciding to not care what other people are thinking of me as I do this, and to just get in my own little bubble and do whatever it is I want to do here completely.”  I didn’t say it out loud, but what it was also really about, was claiming and holding my space.  Like, really owning my space on the dance floor, as if I’d put up a fence to declare it mine – one that said,  this is my area to shine and play and do whatever I want.  Don’t come invade it, it’s mine, not yours.

So anyways, it seemed apropos after all these realizations, when I opened my mail tonight and saw a card from my crazy aunt Julie (by marriage – and I mean crazy in the most lovingly way possible – it’s kind of a term of endearment for her).  Anyways, it fits perfectly into the theme of my lesson with Marietta, the sensual genius, tonight:

Boy does that cat look stupid in a pink bikini doing a pole dance.  But you know what, that kitty is working it!  Maybe I should take a cue from this feline.  Let it all hang out…after all, I am totally about the Meow!  Lol.  I’m going to take this opportunity to pledge to myself (and publicly) that I will continue to “work it” as much as I can.  That I am willing to go to these uncomfortable places if that’s what it takes to become who I want to become.  And finally, to thank Miss Marietta for being my teacher, mentor, and friend, and for pushing me a little further out onto the branch today.  Pretty soon, just like Ivan’s new chicks, I’m gonna fly!

Well, it’s been a long day and I am pooped, especially after staying up late to watch the last night of Emerald Ball online and two amazing dance lessons – one that stressed me physically and one that stretched me emotionally and as a woman and performer.  It’s time to go collapse in bed…I’m not even going to watch DWTS tonight and that should tell you something!

How are you “working it” in your ballroom journey?  What things do you struggle with the most?  Can you describe some moments in which you had a breakthrough and let it all “hang out?”

Until next time, I’m signing off.

XOXO, Stef

The Healing Power of…Shoes?

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Dance Starz studio (and later the mall)

Woman’s styling class with Marieta and power shopping with Katie

I have this plan, see.  I’m going to be this amazing, feminine, yet sexy, and strong, and powerful, graceful, and technically excellent ballroom dancer.  That’s how I show up in my head, in any case.  But the picture in my brain differs considerably from what I see in the mirror every day.

Even though this gap between reality and the vision I have for myself is as wide as the Grand Canyon, the only way to bridge the chasm is to begin to take steps in real life to bring this vision into becoming a reality.

The Stefanie in my mind’s eye is sassy, and confident.  She wears cute outfits on her fit body and looks “put together.”  She wears make up and takes the time to style her hair.  If she feels like it, she thinks nothing of wearing leopard skin prints unabashedly, paired with fuchsia high heels, that scream, “Look at me!”

The Stefanie in the mirror wears black (it’s slimming, right?).  She rarely wears make up.  He hair is frequently found pulled back in a ponytail.  She’s pudgy and shy.  She can’t look into her own eyes in  the mirror, much less those of any audience member.  She wears flat shoes, also black, because they are easy and comfortable, and don’t draw much attention.

But luckily for me, I have friends who support me in my vision.  My friend Katie, I’ve mentioned her before in previous posts, is a fashionista!  She saw my sad black shoes and knew that something needed to be done.

“We’re going shopping,” she tells me, “you need some SOS pumps.”

To me SOS means help, and for certain I need an assist in this arena.  However, according to Katie, SOS really means, “Sex on a stick.”  ( Can I even write about this in a blog…I’m blushing as I write this!)

Um, yeah.  SO OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE!

But that vision in my head of what I could be won’t shut up.  I take a deep breath and think, yes, I’m going to do this.  I don’t know when, but we will.

Yesterday was the day.  I got an email forwarded from Katie about a shoe sale at a local store.  I look at the pictures of exotic pumps and text her back, “Holy Hell.”

We made an appointment for the very same evening.

But first its a group Latin styling class aimed at women taught by Marieta.  I swear, I get an education just by watching this woman move.  She is gorgeous.

First she warms us up, feet, ankles, legs, hips, rib cage, arms.  We are ready to go.  She teaches a little Latin Rumba combination, explaining we are to be feminine and move as though we were swimming under water, fluidly, like seaweed waving under the sea.

Next it is Cha Cha.  She explains that each dance has a different dynamic and characteristic.  We need to move in a way that will create a distinction in our movements, avoiding a monochromatic performance.  Cha Cha has pop, pizzaz, drama, and sharpness.  We do a similar combination as the one for Rumba, and surprisingly, dancing beside this beautiful dancer, I’m creating similar pictures with my body.  I pat myself on the back.  Forget the fact that prior to coming to the lesson I was having a “skinny day.”  There’s nothing like standing next to a professional ballroom dancer to shatter a “skinny day,” but hey, I’m moving, and with each shake and shimmy, I’m one calorie closer to being in shape.

Class ends and Katie is there ready to go.  We speed off toward the mall.  It is 8:05 and the mall closes at 9pm.  But we are on a mission and I intend on accomplishing it.  We park and walk across the mall to the shoe store Katie has in mind.

Remember that scene from “Pretty Woman,” where Julia Roberts in full-on hooker garb walks into the ritzy upscale boutique and the saleswomen won’t give her the time of day.  Well, it was kind of like that.  The sales girls eye me sceptically.  First off, I’m in my black dance pants and black sweater top and those sad black flat shoes.  I wear none of the make up that adorns their pretty faces.  I’m twice the size of their normal customer.  My hair is pulled back in the famous pony tail.

Katie, however, wastes no time.  She asks for Lisa, whom she spoke with earlier today requesting her to set aside a few shoe models.  Lisa hasn’t complied, but oh well.  Katie begins grabbing pumps from here and there and I begin trying them on.

I have to admit, I am so glad I had back up.  If I had attempted to go into this store by myself, I would have chickened out.  I don’t have any confidence in this arena and especially with the way the sales women were interacting with me I would have felt very out of place, very uncomfortable.  Why do I give my power away like that?  I’m not entirely sure.  But with a true friend at my side, we created our own “bubble” of fun and exploration.  We had a blast.  I’m so proud of us – we got some SOS pumps in 23 minutes flat!  Talk about the power of intention and committment.

As I was trying on one pair, walking, just walking in them mind you, I wobbled.  Katie bust out laughing.

“You can do the Cha-Cha in 2.5 inch heels but you can’t walk!  You showed me the Rumba walks, now let me show you how to do the runway walk.”

She demonstrates how to walk on the tippy toes.

The sceptical sales girl suggests that perhaps I should try a lower heel first.  Clearly she doesn’t approve of my choice of SOS heels.  But you know what?  Screw that.  This isn’t about her and what she might be thinking.  It is about me.  And I’m not going to settle for less than what we came here for.  I’m committed.

I decide on the pair I want and tell the sales girl to ring me up.  In a flash, I am almost overcome with emotion.  For one split-second, I see the vision of Stefanie completely unfolded, the Stefanie who wears shoes like this.  I see that really, I am this girl, who fears not to wear bright fire-engine-red too-high-to-be-practical heels.

Yes, I really, really am.

It may be starting with my feet, but the feet have stepped through the partition from my inner mind’s eye to real life.

One foot represents me now, the other represents what I am stepping into becoming

Who knew that buying a pair of shoes could be so healing?  I certainly didn’t!

These are the ones I finally decided upon.

Now, what the heck am I going to wear with these!?

Again, Katie to the rescue.  We are set to find an outfit on Thursday.  I think I’ve been possessed by a “body snatches pod person.”  Then again, maybe not.  Maybe the real Stefanie, the one who’s been hiding all her life, finally feels like it is safe to come out.  She needs the support of her friends and a lot of love and compassion, but little by little, I detect her flower blossoming.  And all because of the support of a friend  who helped me find the courage to go and buy some silly, red shoes.  (I mean, awesome, sexy shoes).

I just need to learn how to walk in them….